In my teaching portfolio group and in my reading group, we talked a lot about fruitful ways to guide undergraduates in their efforts to become better writers. One of the ideas which got bandied about was the idea of the "second chance" policy. Under this policy, students would turn in a paper, receive a grade back with comments, and would have a second chance to make the necessary amendments, turn the paper in a second time, and earn some of the points back which they lost in the first round.

I like this idea for a number of reasons. First of all, I think it gives students a chance to really learn from their mistakes. I've seen countless students get their papers back, see that they got a lower grade than anticipated, then immediately throw the paper away on the way out of the door, without even reading the comments. It must be so frustrating to them to feel like they are failing. Moreover, it must be frustrating to not understand why they are not doing as well as they would like to do. Finally, it's frustrating for me as an instructor to pour a lot of time into making thoughtful comments, then see those comments go unread. This "second chance" policy offers a structural incentive for students to understand why they did not do as well as expected. My sense is that this policy will not only make them better writers for my class, but will help them be better writers for the rest of their academic careers and for the rest of their lives. In short, the "second chance" policy will create an incentive to do what all great writers do: edit.

Second, I think that this "second chance" policy sets an important tone in the classroom. It send the message that it is okay to make mistakes in my classroom, and that learning from your mistakes is an important part of the learning process. I think it's far too easy to dismiss students who don't 'get it right' the first time. Many students are eager and willing to rise to the challenge set before them, once it becomes clear what they did wrong; I believe that this 'second chance' policy is a great way to really help them.

However, I worry a little bit about grade inflation here. An obvious solution would be to make my initial grading of the papers harder, but I'm not certain how I feel about making my grading artificially harsher. It might be incredibly discouraging to students who do very poorly. For example, if a student gets a 50 on a paper, she might say to herself, "I'm not going to make all of those amendments and put in all that time, just to get a C as a final grade. I'll just take that F." Worse yet, she might drop the class and be left with the sensation that she could not be a successful writer. Any thoughts on this, Internet?

Someone else voiced some concerns about how time-consuming it would be to be a professor under the "second chance" policy. Honestly, I think that I'd rather have fewer paper assignments under the second chance policy than more papers without the second chance policy. My sense is that they would learn so much more from two papers under the second chance policy than three or four papers under the normal grading policies.

Here are some potential ways to implement the "second chance" policies:

1) Take an average of their two paper grades and make that their final paper grade. So if Tina got an 80 the first time and a 94 the second time, she would earn an 87 for her final paper grade.

2) The highest grade they can earn is 100-(first grade) * .5. In other words, if Tomas got a 76 on their first paper, and implemented all of the changes I suggested perfectly, I would give him the highest grade possible for his second effort, by tacking 12/12 points onto his first paper grade, giving him a final grade of an 88. If he did a so-so job of implementing these changes, I might give him 75% of the possible points he could have earned - maybe 9/12 points. If his efforts left quite a bit to be desired, I might only give him 5/12 points back.

3) Disregard the grade from the first iteration of the paper, and make the second iteration's grade the final grade for the paper. I don't particularly care for this style, as it completely nullifies their first efforts, and makes it much harder to distinguish between a) students who hit it right on the head the first time, and only needed to make minor adjustments to make their papers seamless, and b) students who needed a lot more help to get their papers where they needed to be.

Additionally, I don't want to create a system where students will not turn a paper in the first time (getting a zero on it), then only turn a paper in for the second round. If the students did this, it would be as if the "second chance" policy weren't in place at all. My sense is that students who would abstain from turning in a first draft would be the students who need the most help in the first place.

4) Along with their second draft, students would need to turn in a one-page outlining the mistakes they made, as well as how they avoided those mistakes the second time around. They would also need to write about how they would avoid making those mistakes in the future. I like this sort of meta-cognition, but I worry that it would make students defensive.

What are your thoughts, Internet?

I like this idea for a number of reasons. First of all, I think it gives students a chance to really learn from their mistakes. I've seen countless students get their papers back, see that they got a lower grade than anticipated, then immediately throw the paper away on the way out of the door, without even reading the comments. It must be so frustrating to them to feel like they are failing. Moreover, it must be frustrating to not understand why they are not doing as well as they would like to do. Finally, it's frustrating for me as an instructor to pour a lot of time into making thoughtful comments, then see those comments go unread. This "second chance" policy offers a structural incentive for students to understand why they did not do as well as expected. My sense is that this policy will not only make them better writers for my class, but will help them be better writers for the rest of their academic careers and for the rest of their lives. In short, the "second chance" policy will create an incentive to do what all great writers do: edit.

Second, I think that this "second chance" policy sets an important tone in the classroom. It send the message that it is okay to make mistakes in my classroom, and that learning from your mistakes is an important part of the learning process. I think it's far too easy to dismiss students who don't 'get it right' the first time. Many students are eager and willing to rise to the challenge set before them, once it becomes clear what they did wrong; I believe that this 'second chance' policy is a great way to really help them.

However, I worry a little bit about grade inflation here. An obvious solution would be to make my initial grading of the papers harder, but I'm not certain how I feel about making my grading artificially harsher. It might be incredibly discouraging to students who do very poorly. For example, if a student gets a 50 on a paper, she might say to herself, "I'm not going to make all of those amendments and put in all that time, just to get a C as a final grade. I'll just take that F." Worse yet, she might drop the class and be left with the sensation that she could not be a successful writer. Any thoughts on this, Internet?

Someone else voiced some concerns about how time-consuming it would be to be a professor under the "second chance" policy. Honestly, I think that I'd rather have fewer paper assignments under the second chance policy than more papers without the second chance policy. My sense is that they would learn so much more from two papers under the second chance policy than three or four papers under the normal grading policies.

Here are some potential ways to implement the "second chance" policies:

1) Take an average of their two paper grades and make that their final paper grade. So if Tina got an 80 the first time and a 94 the second time, she would earn an 87 for her final paper grade.

2) The highest grade they can earn is 100-(first grade) * .5. In other words, if Tomas got a 76 on their first paper, and implemented all of the changes I suggested perfectly, I would give him the highest grade possible for his second effort, by tacking 12/12 points onto his first paper grade, giving him a final grade of an 88. If he did a so-so job of implementing these changes, I might give him 75% of the possible points he could have earned - maybe 9/12 points. If his efforts left quite a bit to be desired, I might only give him 5/12 points back.

3) Disregard the grade from the first iteration of the paper, and make the second iteration's grade the final grade for the paper. I don't particularly care for this style, as it completely nullifies their first efforts, and makes it much harder to distinguish between a) students who hit it right on the head the first time, and only needed to make minor adjustments to make their papers seamless, and b) students who needed a lot more help to get their papers where they needed to be.

Additionally, I don't want to create a system where students will not turn a paper in the first time (getting a zero on it), then only turn a paper in for the second round. If the students did this, it would be as if the "second chance" policy weren't in place at all. My sense is that students who would abstain from turning in a first draft would be the students who need the most help in the first place.

4) Along with their second draft, students would need to turn in a one-page outlining the mistakes they made, as well as how they avoided those mistakes the second time around. They would also need to write about how they would avoid making those mistakes in the future. I like this sort of meta-cognition, but I worry that it would make students defensive.

What are your thoughts, Internet?